Posts Tagged ‘Volkswagon’

The Camper Era

The Camper Era

After returning from this trip, which I wouldn’t have missed for the world, I bought my first camper van, an ancient Commer with a nice conversion in back. This opened up the way for me to get away to the West country more often and to retrace my steps back to France & Spain once a year, not to mention numerous weekends camping out at Compton. There was a trip to Rhosilli at Easter one year with a bunch of other guys who camped in tents. It was so cold that Jake put all his clothes on to go to bed and the boards were covered in ice in the morning.

Needless to say, I was snug & warm in the Commer. On a trip to Newquay in the Commer in September 1976, Jake & I would surf Great Western in the morning on a rising tide and Crantock on the ebb in the afternoon as the edge was taken off the swell.

One afternoon, we were out in the line-up at Crantock when Dave ‘Turf’ Salero & Brian Hill turned up on the beach, but couldn’t get out through the crunching inside section. We’d just remarked on this, when Jake saw a monster set rear up out back. As he was clearly a bit nervous, I said, “Don’t worry Jake, it’s only water”. Funnily enough, that didn’t seem to reassure him. Suffice to say that we were both cleaned up & washed in and felt no desire to venture out again that day!

That Commer eventually gave way to a bigger Commer Highwayman. This was a coachbuilt conversion & would sleep 4 in comfort. It was a big, slow beast though & the journey back from Freshwater West in Pembrooke with Mick Thomson & Magic took all day. In time, that van was superseded by a rising roof Bedford.

Unfortunately, a coming together with an 80mph drunk a week before a planned trip to Ireland meant the Bedford was written off, to be replaced, eventually, by a VW. That served me well for several years with trips back to Biarritz, Spain, Ireland, Wales & the West country before being replaced by another VW.

One day I was talking to a bunch of guys, a couple of whom I knew, when one of the guys I didn’t know very well said, “You’re Keith Williams aren’t you? You’re the guy who caught the best wave ever at Compton” I was a bit stunned by this pronouncement, as you can imagine. Having thought about it, I remembered a Saturday afternoon a few months previously, in October 1986, when the conditions were the best I’d ever seen at Compton. The swell was 6-8 feet on a rising tide with no wind to speak of. At the time, I’d gone back to long boards and had a ‘Chapter’ popout. I’d caught a couple of 4-5 footers and got tubed on the inside when I saw a big set approaching. I was able to get outside everyone else and was lined up just right for the first wave. It peaked & peeled perfectly and I decided not to attempt anything clever, so as not to risk falling off this beauty prematurely. I crouched and dragged my hand, easing forward on the board and tucked up into the curl for what seemed like several minutes before pulling out over the top as the wave closed out nearer the beach. There were many other waves on that day, but none came close to bettering that one; so maybe that was the one the guy meant. I was so stoked with the session that I hardly slept that night, still buzzing on the adrenaline rush.


Early 90’s Cornwall Surf Trip

I rememver an early 90’s surf trip to Cornwall when it seeemd that half the Isle of Wight surf community made the trip down to Newquay. There was a Competition on and Ray Hutchings, Al Reed and others were all competing. In my VW Camper was Chris Blackley, Shaun Baxter and Scott Holley all on one of their first surf trips to Cornwall. I was working at the Isle of Wight County Press at the time and good friend and County Press photographer Pete Boam was looking for a lift to the West Country, so he joined us for the trip down. Pete brought some great refreshments for the trip and as soon as we departed the ferry the partying had begun. By the time we dropped Pete off somewhere the Cornwall and Devon border it was already getting messy. It was freally good to get to Crantock and be able to properly join them.

In the morning we drove straight to Fistral to see what was happening and try and find everyone. Aaron Rogers was already there with a Red Transit Van with what seeemed like half the Island surf community on board. Jamie Isaac was there with Mark White and Jamie was stood in the middle of the car park trying to do some juggling. Jamie’s skills at juggling were not the best and he soon got lots of stick. Eventually a desicion was made to head elsewhere to get some waves, as with the contest on Fistral was rammed with people. I think most of us surfed at Crantock, where we caught up with Stu Jones, Tristan May and Steve Padley. I don’t remember the surf being particularly memorable but that night at the Bowgie Inn in Crantock was one to remember (Or Not). I do remember we had some food in the pub and then went into the Nightclub. It was packed and they finished the evening with Rage Against the Machine, Pearl Jam and Nirvana and I can’t believe there wasn’t a fight. I think a few people squared up but I don’t remember anyone getting hit. We carried on back at the vans and it turned inot a really hazy night.

In the morning you could tell who were the seasoned pros at surf trips and camping in vans and cars at beach car parks. Being up early and first to the public toilets after a heavy night of Cornish Ale and Pub Grub was a must, and to remember to bring your own toilet roll. When I saw Mark White walking back with his bog roll and a big smile I knew there was going to be alot of groans later.

There was a bit of disagreement over where to surf that morning and we all got split up. A few of us went to Perranporth in search of some clean waves but it was a lot smaller. Mark was sure he would find better waves further south but Jamie decided to stay and surf with us. After a fun surf we decided to follow Mark down to St Ives but it was just big and messy. We decided to head back to the Island and maybe get a few waves at Bournmouth on the way back.

When we got back to the IOW ferry Jamie suddenly realised that he had left his ferry ticket in Marks’ car. We had all the boards inside the van and so got Jamie to climb in amongst all the board bags and sneaked him on board the ferry.

My memory of this trip is a bit hazy and I’m not sure what year it was but the night up at the Bowgie in Crantock was one to remember, hopefully these pics may jog a few more memories.


The Big Trip by Keith Williams

The Big Trip by Keith Williams

In the late 60s & early 70s, Biarritz was the place to go if you were serious about surfing. Guys like Rog Cooper, Bob Ward and Tad Ciastula were regular visitors for the summer and it was like a right of passage for English surfers, a bit like gap year travels nowadays.

I was sitting with my boss at JS Whites one afternoon in early March 1973 when his phone rang. “It’s for you”, he said crossly, handing me the phone. It was Tony Mac. “I’m going to France for the summer” he said “Are you coming?”

I thought about it for about 3 seconds, & said “Yes” So it was on May 3rd we left Southampton on a Townsend Thorenson car ferry (remember them?) bound for Cherbourg in the home-converted 1200 VW that Tony had acquired for the trip. It took us 3 days to get to Biarritz & when we arrived at Bidart Plage it was dull, drizzly and windy with no waves to speak of!

Having said that, we did witness some big waves at Guethary, La Barre & Lafitenia at about 15 ft before we moved on to Spain.

I remember having to take turns to go to the local shops for our daily bread, milk etc and it became my habit, once the shopping had been done, to stop for a coffee in the square at Bidart. As I sat there, looking around at the distant Pyrenees, La Rhune, the church and all the other buildings around the square, it struck me that this was the nicest place that I’d ever been to. Now, nearly 40 years on, Bidart is still my most favourite place, despite the changes that time has wrought and the many other wonderful places that surfing has taken me to.

There were several of us from the Island down there for the summer; there was Rog, Tad, Dave Mercer, Pete Brown, Trev Woodley & us. We surfed at some wonderful beaches but on the other hand, stayed in some really dodgy places!

One of the dodgier places was Baquio, where we were parked up between the apartment blocks for several days. One day there seemed to be a 2-3 foot swell building. We all started getting changed to go in, but by the time we’d got in the water, the swell had got up to about 5-6 feet. Rog said that it was time to hit Mundaka. Tony & I set off with some trepidation, not only because Mundaka had a fearsome reputation even then, but because Rog had told us how bad the road was between Baquio & Mundaka. Sure enough, it was like driving over a ploughed field with bomb craters in it. It was six miles & it took us nearly an hour.

When we got there, Rog was just coming back from a look-see over the harbour wall. “Great,” he said “It’s about 8 feet AND they’ve mended the road”!

Discretion being the better part of valour, I refrained from surfing that day, preferring to watch from the harbour wall as guys got eaten by the ultra fast left.

As the tide flooded, I recall Dave Mercer being washed into the river & so far up stream that he had to get out of the water & walk back along the road as the current was too much to paddle against. I did venture in the next day when the size had dropped to about 5-6 feet. The waves were incredibly fast, no matter how hard I tried, I could not outrun them and ate sand.

There was another session in big waves that I remember. This was back in France when Guethary reef was working at about 10-12 feet. Tony & I decided to paddle out to watch from the safety of the shoulder. Although the waves were the biggest I’d ever been in, they were not breaking fast, so after a while, I thought I’d have a go. Trev Woodley always said that Guethary was the only right break in the world where you had to go left to catch up with the curl, so I felt I could handle it.

I paddled over to where Rog & the other guys were and eventually paddled for a wave. As the board started to plane, I stood up, but was unprepared for the acceleration down the face & was thrown off the back as the board accelerated away. On the second wave, I was determined not to repeat that mistake and so stood up quickly, transferring my weight forward onto my left foot. I guess it was inevitable, but I accelerated straight down the face & got 10 feet of the Bay of Biscay dumped on top of me. After that, I figured I’d had enough.

Somo, across the river from Santander, was another favourite place. In those days it was just sand dunes & pine trees and a gloriously long sandy beach with no-one about, except at weekends when a few city folk would come out & camp.

I particularly enjoyed the walk along the beach to the little jetty where a boat, not too dissimilar to the ‘African Queen’, would come in to pick you up for the 20 peseta (about a shilling or 5p) ride across the river to Santander. The boats were run by a company called Los Diez Hermanos, or The Ten Brothers & at least two of them looked remarkably like Humphrey Bogart in the above mentioned movie!

We would go over every couple of days for supplies in the market and a wander around followed by a large café con leche in a pavement café. There were no other English people and it was rare to see any one else on the beach. One night just after dusk, we were aware of a distant noise like chanting. As the noise got louder, we could see a procession approaching, carrying torches & some sort of figure on a plinth. We were a bit concerned for a while as we thought maybe we were about to be sacrificed by the Spanish KKK to some weird Iberian Anti-Surfing God or other. Fortunately, the procession wound its way past us & down through the dunes onto the beach, where they set fire to the figure and its plinth.

We found out later that it was an annual ceremony to celebrate Santa Maria, which was the name of the small island off the eastern end of the beach. I’ve spent 10 or 12 weeks there in all, over 3 or 4 visits, just parked up behind the dunes, surfin’ & chillin’ out. However, the last time I went there, in 1980, there was a road, a car park, an ice cream shop, diggers, lorries and foundations being laid for what would inevitably be a load of shore side apartment blocks. A sad day indeed, Lord knows what it’s like now.

That trip proceeded on to Portugal and some more wonderfully deserted surf spots. Although the water was cold after Biarritz, I really enjoyed Peniche and Carcavellos.


‘The start of surfing on the Island’ by Pat Morrell

‘The start of surfing on the Island’ by Pat Morrell Hutch and I started body boarding at Compton in 1955. My parents rented one of the huts that were out there then. The boards were just flat plywood sheets – the “posh” people had boards with curved up noses but ours were home made. We […]


The Perfect Day

It was a day when you surfed until you just couldn’t surf anymore and your arms were like jelly. You would come up to the car park and grab something to eat and drink and talk about your waves until you couldn’t watch the swell rolling in anymore and go in again. It never seemed busy, only about 15 people in the line up at any one time but people surfed all day and into the night. Keith Williams as I remember was one of the guys who surfed all day on his Chapter Longboard and was catching wave after wave right from outside the wreck right upto the beach where there used to be a couple of lumps of concrete just under the waters edge at high tide. Steve Williams also stood out and seemed a master a riding Compton. Ray Hutchings was doing amazing cutbacks and just knew exactly where to put his board staying right in the critical part of the wave. Clive Richardson togot his fair share of waves too, going left or right seeming to always pick a perfect wall. Jason Matthews was about my age and started surfing at the same time as me, but was a much better surfer than me. Jason was a goofy foot and would smash the lip on his back hand through the inside at Compton.